No. 46 Crying for Justice
My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks (Isaiah 55:8). Learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:29)
A Fair Go?
The idea of a ‘fair go’ is close to the heart of most Australians. We cry out for it. Fairness in all dealings and in human relationships. Where each is entitled to his due. And hopes to receive it. This is what most of us have in mind when we speak of justice.
Justice is a broad concept, as variously defined across the ages. A never-ending quest, undertaken in a vast, uneven and complex human field. Political leaders make much of the notion of a fair go and endeavour to stand tall in the public eye, through pledging their commitment to it. Journalists and the mass media develop the notion for analysis, critique and comment (and also for the sake of ratings and sales). Members of the public find in it an inexhaustible trove of food for thought and animated discussion. However, it is the legal fraternity, the police and the judiciary, which are regarded as affording the state-sanctioned means for upholding and safeguarding accepted principles of justice. But they are able to do so only in so far as the law permits, and the evidence that the police and lawyers are able to come up with. All this highlights the need, on these custodians’ part, for intelligent commitment, impartiality and integrity. Without these justice would be no more than a name.
In our day, justice (as a fair go) is widely regarded as the protection of people from the depredations of the unscrupulous; recompense for the wronged and the injured; and of penalties and punishment for wrongdoers. In these matters the discretion allowed judges is limited, for they are governed by the law and a mass of judicial precedents. It has to be emphasised that the main purpose of the law is to provide a framework and the means for the proper ordering of society. And ‘proper’ is what the powers, that were and are, decide. Justice, alas, is not the primary objective of the law. It is secondary, a hoped-for (and incomplete) outcome of obedience to the law. Rather, the prevention ofinjustice is its greater concern.
Then, there is the general public, who hold diverse views on fair play and justice. In our land these have been influenced by high ethical ideals even though their Christian roots have been forgotten. Within the community there resides another essential approach to seeking justice, based on watching out for criminal activity, and an ear to the ground. However, our cherished freedoms of speech and of the press are tolerated only within limits, amid a backdrop of vigilance, speculation, curiosity and whistle blowing.
From among the community there often springs vigilante justice, at which the mass media and the general public are adept. Frequently, these operate on the non-principle that, evidence regardless, ‘Where there is smoke there must be fire’ (where ‘smoke’ often turns out to be no more than cloud or mist), and that ‘The suspect is guilty until proven innocent’.
Penalty and Restitution
The law tends to offer those injured by transgressors monetary compensation for the wrong they have suffered. Or at least an apology to the innocent by the guilty. For those unjustly accused, a clearing of their good name. But often, what the law prescribes fails to soothe the anguish endured by those who have been outraged, violated and/or duped. Many of these sense the need for punishment for the victimiser, who they believe must be brought to book and made to suffer in some way.
As with the law, most people recognise that crime must be dealt with, and that some sort of penalty is needed before healing can commence. However, the observant among us realise that, in our society with its secular values, too many of us bay for blood and vengeance. So we ask whether the punishment imposed by the law upon the guilty is vindictive or medicinal? And if imprisoned, are they forgotten, and left to the mercy of prison inmates, who often make life a living hell for those whom they decide to pick upon? This leads to the question of whether our prison system (where the notion of justice for prisoners is in seldom seriously thought of) is urgently in need of reform? What do you think?
Sadly, as for the hapless victims of crime, many find that their anguish and any bitterness lodged in their hearts does not disappear once the offence against has been avenged Their pain may persist, and ultimately to destroy them. Where is there healing for them? How may they be helped? Who offers them genuine hope?
The Christic Approach
Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbour. (Catechism of the Catholic Church Section: 1807)
The Christic vision of God and of justice is high above all this. Because it is inspired not by the law or by man, but by the One Who became Man out of love for all people. Justice must be sought. Wrong-doing must be recognised and admitted by the guilty, together with contrition and reparation; and a cleansing process (which may be called punishment) initiated, for the healing of all concerned. But this process is not to be separated from mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Because the Son of the Living God has presented the Father to us, his children, as Love, Compassion, Mercy and Forgiveness: for all (including ourselves, in whom there is sin and the need for hope and renewal in the Lord). Such is the Christic vision which is far richer and more comprehensive than what the secular world can offer. This is a truth that even many of us who regard ourselves as Christian find oh so difficult to accept as we journey towards the Lord God.
The commitment of the Church, which endeavours to mirror Christ, is to strive to bring true justice, forgiveness and healing for both victim and perpetrator of wrong, through the mercy and embrace of God by the seal of the Confessional and of the Eucharist. In Christ none is to be abandoned. The victim needs to be consoled with Christian love; the criminal to recognise the damage and the havoc he has wrought, and as far as possible to make up for his crime and be denied the opportunity to repeat it; but always to be offered hope, not despair, and given the chance for redemption. For, with Christ, there is always a welcome home and the offer of a new beginning in the Lord. In that promise, and in His love which redeems and uplifts, all pain and suffering can be endured.
Such belief and commitment frequently places both Christ and His Church at odds with the state and secular society. To persevere in this requires ongoing prayer, personal growth, transformation, courage, wisdom and the power of the Holy Spirit. And, for these graces may we pray.
In Him, ‘Mercy and Faithfulness have met; Justice and Peace have embraced.’ (Psalm 84:11)
Gracious God, attune our hearts to the presence of the Holy Spirit, that our relationships be healed, and our nation grow in compassion and justice (from the National Prayer for the Year of Grace)